The Jubilee Year of Mercy in St Mary’s Leyland by Fr Jonathan Cotton OSB
“Yes, I believe this is a time of mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded…She gathers (the wounded) in, she embraces them, she takes care of them, she makes them feel loved”
Pope Francis. Taken from “The Name of God is Mercy”
On the 8th December 2015, the very first day of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, Archbishop Malcolm visited us to officially designate St Mary’s a “Mercy Church”.
What a gift this Year of Mercy has been for our parish. Pope Francis had in mind a bigger vision than anyone could imagine. He wants every member of the Catholic Church, and indeed the whole of humanity, to be touched by God’s mercy that is infinite. Mercy is God’s very name, he says, and is a quality in God that comes before justice; in Him both virtues are one. In other words, we must learn to be merciful as He is and then we will offer true justice. “Our Father waits. Always. And it is never too late. That’s what he’s like, that’s how he is… he’s a father waiting at the doorway who comes running towards us, kissing us tenderly” (Taken from “The Name of God is Mercy”)
Leyland’s geographical location meant that we could be an accessible Mercy Church for those in the Liverpool deaneries of Chorley Leyland, Southport, Wigan and Leigh and elsewhere, enabling them to visit us to gain the graces of the Jubilee Year. I would like to share some memories with you of their visits, which gave flesh and blood to the inspiring words of Pope Francis.
Parishioners from the North of the Salford Diocese made their pilgrimages here alongside our own parishioners from Southport and Wigan. I vividly recall one lovely old married couple from East Lancashire and the husband’s wise words, gained from years of discipleship in his vocation as a married man: “We would all be completely lost if God’s Mercy did not sustain us each moment of the day”.
We had memorable pilgrimages from the ladies of St Oswald’s in Longton, and from a group from St Richards and the other parishes in Skelmersdale. What joy we shared in the happiness and peace of reconciliation.
The group from St Richards and parishes in Skelmersdale with their Parish priest
A very inspiring, devout and hope-filled group was the Primary School from Hindley Green who visited us early in November. Our neighbouring priest from Euxton celebrated mass which brought great joy to them all.
Every year in Advent schoolchildren and parents in Leyland of all denominations come together to praise God. Each school sings its own carol and our Church is packed. In Advent 2015 we all shared our thoughts with a Methodist minister, who is an expert in communication, about the meaning of Mercy. I remember one child’s response: Mercy means forgiveness.
We hosted the Nugent Care Mass in June 2016 for the schools of the North of the Archdiocese. Archbishop Malcolm presided, emphasising Divine Mercy, and here again was a Church filled with our youngsters in Primary and Secondary Schools.
A lovely lady from our own Diocese in a neighbouring deanery shared something of her life story. She had been widowed after a long and happy marriage to a soldier who was a convert to Catholicism and who became a wonderful Catholic Christian. She came to receive for herself and for him and her family the graces of the Year of Mercy.
Very significantly, Pope Francis called for a Year for Consecrated Life to run from 30 November 2014, the First Sunday of Advent, to the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on 2 February 2016. This period of course largely coincided with the Jubilee Year of Mercy that began on December 8th 2015 and ended on 20th November 2016, the feast of Christ the King.
This focus on the consecrated life is particularly relevant to us as we were the only Mercy Church run by a Religious Order (the Benedictines). Those of us in Religious Life, men and women, are called to be disciples of Our Lord by following one of the great gifts the Holy Spirit has given to the Church throughout history.
The Holy Father called on all consecrated people “to wake up the world” and this is their specific role in the Church, in accordance with their special gifts of the Holy Spirit. These charisms correspond to the prophetic side of the Church, which is in communion with the so-called hierarchical side of the Church. We could call the former the charisms of the Holy Spirit that follow the profile of Our Lady. The latter we could call the charism of order in the Church following the profile of St Peter. Both are co-essential to the Mystical Body according to modern and ancient Church teaching.
There would be no Church without both. Mary’s charism precedes that of Peter.
Left to right: Moses parting the red sea: Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal: Isaiah – the prophecy in Chapter 7 of Jesus’ birth from a maiden: John the Baptist preaching to the crowds in the wilderness.
The Old Testament times needed prophets. The 4th Eucharistic Prayer of the Catholic Liturgy of the Mass says this: “time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation”. The prophets always brought the people back to God, they “woke up the holy people of God” to things essential which they had forgotten. It is a temptation to make rituals, administration and keeping the Holy People in order the all-important thing, almost in place of opening up our hearts to the mystery and wonder of God. The Pope’s call is deeply challenging: “Live in the light of the loving relationship of the three divine persons, the model for all interpersonal relationships” (Taken from the Apostolic Letter on the Consecrated Life).
That “Prophetic Spirit” continues in the Church right up to today, both through the traditional charisms and the charisms of new Movements that are recognised by the Church. There is only one Holy Spirit, and the charismatic side and the hierarchical side of the Church are both inspired by the same Spirit. They work in communion with each other, and that sometimes causes healthy tension. In addition, the Charismatic Movement in the Catholic and other Churches has had hugely beneficial effects and this often emphasises the charisms that are found in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12. There is no doubt that the people of God need waking up today as they have throughout history.
As a Benedictine Church we wanted to emphasise the enormous significance of the prophets God has given to the world since apostolic times. For the Year of Mercy and the Year of the Consecrated Life are inextricably linked, perhaps most of all by the notion of joy. Joy in the mercy of God and in the prophetic gifts of the Holy Spirit: “But in all things we should be able to discover perfect joy. For it is here that we learn to recognise the face of Christ in all things and to rejoice in the knowledge that we are being conformed to him who, out of love for us, did not refuse the sufferings of the cross” (Taken from the Apostolic Letter on the Consecrated Life).
In his mercy the Lord has given us everything in the Mass, through the Bishops and Priests, and through the sacraments and the Word of God. But it is as though this is not enough. He in his infinite mercy throughout the history of the Church has sent new prophets to make the sleepy people of God, including the Bishops and Priests, wake up in different centuries. Often such people that God chose had followers around them (think of St Catherine of Siena, St Bridget of Sweden, St Teresa of Avila, St Benedict, St Francis, St Dominic, St Ignatius or Alice Ingham of Rochdale).
We had evenings in the Year when we heard about St Teresa of Avila and the Carmelite tradition, St Ignatius and the Jesuits, St Alphonsus Ligouri and the Redemptorists, Chiara Lubich and the Work of Mary or the Focolare Movement, Fr Petrus Triest, the founder of the Brothers of Charity who are at Lisieux Hall near Chorley and in Leyland, St Benedict and the Benedictines, and Euphrasie Barbier (whose sisters called Missionaries of Our Lady of the Missions left Leyland and Farington after 80 years of service this year).
We also had a session on God’s gift of baptism as a sign of his mercy on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord; on God’s gift of Mercy in giving us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Our Lady is the woman of the Spirit) and the merciful gift of Eucharist at Corpus Christi. Finally and importantly, we heard about the gift of Mercy in the light of the present day Refugee Crisis from our Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Worker.
Being a Benedictine parish we need an extra word about the Benedictine evening we held. It was run by monks of an Anglican Benedictine monastery near Worcester, Mucknell Abbey on the 11th November 2016 and ended our official activities for the Year of Mercy. It was a wonderful evening, attended by Catholics and our brothers and sisters from other Churches particularly in Leyland. Mucknell Abbey is ecumenical, and the Abbot Stuart Burns brought with him a Methodist member of the community, Brother Ian Mead. They also have a Lutheran Benedictine among them (and they include women and men in their small community, like St Hilda of Whitby did, and the Gilbertines in the later middle Ages). It was very much appreciated as an experience of the Benedictine way, living the balance of Prayer and Work. It gave us a prophetic insight into the future of the Church when one day Jesus’ prayer that All May be One will be fulfilled.
It can be seen from the above brief summary how fruitful the Year of Mercy and the Year for the Consecrated Life have been in our parish and the surrounding areas. Just because this time has ended, however, does not mean that the gifts and graces of Mercy do not continue. A parishioner put it like this: “a small seed has been planted. May it grow into a great big tree enfolding the people of God!” The mercy of God never stops; without it we would cease to exist, and there is always more to understand to learn. “Mercy is the first attribute of God” says the Holy Father. I don’t think we could ever exhaust how significant these words are for our daily life.
To see an impression of our Church when Archbishop Malcolm opened our Holy Door please copy and paste the following into your computer and turn up the volume. http://www.cahill-photography.com/slideshow/holy-door/ Or you can find it on the Parish website itself: go to the Year of Mercy menu, scroll down to third menu entitled Year of Mercy 2016 and open it, on the third menu see Slide show by courtesy of M. Cahill. Click on the picture to start the automatic slide show with music.
I would strongly encourage everyone to read Pope Francis’s profound and inspirational book on the Year of Mercy: “The Name of God is Mercy”. It is a slim volume and extremely readable.